Winter had unleashed some weird viruses—viruses that modified behaviour and hung in the air like microscopic snow crystals. First up the vomiting bug and then the one that made you feel immune to danger causing men and women to buy stuff they didn’t need and dangle from scaffolding in their lunch hour. I saw a young woman scaling a lamppost in broad daylight; shout at the community support officer below, before emptying her bladder over his head.
There was the pseudo-cockle strain of the pneumococcal infection a bug that went deep into the DNA and started denaturing proteins and replicating junk DNA—long meaningless sequences—the equivalent of pizza flyers and property magazines connecting your synapses into a chain of creeping and deathly irrelevance until you could no longer concentrate and rubbed your eyes, burning bright with after images of dark, polarised irises.
With all these things flying about it was hard to get to know someone. The women I liked were, like me, subject to modifications. When you met someone one had to ask were you getting the real deal or a personality enhanced temporarily by the behaviour of a hidden parasite? Did it even matter? One liked to imagine that the people you loved and their absurdist habits had been ingrained through long lonely nights of insight.
I went to work and noticed that there were now more and more problem customers, easily identifiable by a new virus creating banal adaptations. It was a simple and subtle thing — this virus needed to be incubated in the brain like a teapot in a tea cosy, the optimum temperature was best achieved by wearing white woollen bobble hats. The bobble hats approached the pod and started up some spiel about their unwillingness to surrender any identifying details when joining the library, a point blank refusal to use cash or credit cards, turning the most straight forward exchange into a furious existential crisis. ‘Why do you need a number or card? How do I know you won’t store information on previous boyfriends? Doesn’t your refusal to explain the provenance of the gecko key chain bottle opener hanging from your hip pocket suggest an unsustainable business model?’
In the beginning I tried to reason, follow them up and down the narrow unlit corridors of logic but soon I was lulled asleep by frantic footsteps.
The world was filled with unquiet people; their shuffling could be heard through partition walls and up and down stairs. I watched customers I admired. The girl in the bottle green coat and long pre-Raphaelite locks who was lit up by some inner fire, always taking time to point out absurdities and suggest a book I might like. When I looked up on Wednesday morning I didn’t recognise her, strands of greasy red hair were plastered to her collar and her fiery head was quenched in a white woollen hat.
‘Why do I need a credit card or money to purchase a cheap plastic keepsake? Is it right that the government should store till receipts in an underground bunker and retrace our entire purchasing history in order to make informed decisions about whether they should renew our oyster cards?’
I was hoping for a smile, a flicker around the force lines on either side of this once beautiful mouth. She was long gone just the angry mouth and the scrunched up eyes and the hydraulic pistons pumping air.
I went home and cried; self-pity was my go to position. I wasn’t sure what I’d become and had an odd feeling of a fine mesh, a metallic cobweb settling on my brain. Caught up in the mesh was dust and dead flies. I had plans but I couldn’t remember what they were. Online transactions were suddenly distasteful. What I wanted was to visit charity shops, look through their racks of unsuitable clothing, find a winter hat to keep my brain warm.